South Florida Hospital News
Thursday October 1, 2020

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December 2006 - Volume 3 - Issue 6


The Writer Without a Voice

His writing was exquisite. He wrote for and about the underdog, but he influenced kings, presidents and despots. In the ‘50s and ‘60s he was revered in his homeland as a great humanitarian, an eloquent Cuban writer and poet who actively fought against Castro’s policies.

When they escaped to Miami in 1962 they left hurriedly, taking nothing. His wife and sons went ahead because he was afraid the government would not let someone of his stature go. In the end, the bureaucrat who checked his paperwork was ignorant, did not recognize his name and let him pass by without notice.

He spent the next 40 years writing and teaching in America. He was a professor emeritus at Georgetown University; a young Bill Clinton was among his students. He wrote prolifically, for newspapers in Washington and in Miami. He authored books. He did commentary. The King of Spain bestowed an award on him for his accomplishments. His sons grew up to be writers.

Today the people who treat him with great deference are the VITAS nurses and aides who come to his home to bathe him, to take his vital signs and check on his medications. He has Alzheimer’s disease.

His wife, who provides most of his care, gets lots of psychosocial support from the interdisciplinary team from VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Miami-Dade County. Loving, caring and proud of her husband’s work, she talked about his writing with such fervor that his homecare team started to do some reading. An admiring student had compiled many of his articles into a scrapbook, which they read. Then they looked for more, and found . . . a lot more.

"The floodgates opened up," says Rita Kathalynas, team manager.

"I thanked him once," she adds. "I kissed his hand and told him he was a beautiful writer and that I was deeply moved by the depth of his emotion and the sense of purpose found in his work. He put his hands to his chest, palms over his heart and nodded as if to say, ‘Thank you’—something he couldn’t express in words, but something I still hear."

"He can be very appropriate at times," agrees Senior Patient Care Administrator Betty Bel. "There are times when he understands—moments when you see a snapshot of who he once was. But his mind is gone. He is fluently bilingual, and he doesn’t make a word of sense. He wanders aimlessly in his home, always with a book in his hand. And he’s deteriorating, losing weight, occasionally aggressive.

"But he’s sweet and loving, too. He recognizes his wife and sons. He loves to get a hug. He smiles when someone comes to his home. And we continue to acknowledge him, talk to him, treat him with the respect he is due.

"He lived a beautiful life and made a difference in the lives of others. Now we’re just trying to do the same for him."

Brian Payne, senior general manager of VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Miami-Dade County, can be reached at 1-800-93-VITAS.
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